Illustration: Anna Loveday-Brown
“Every struggle, in any part of the world for food sovereignty is our struggle.”
Nyéléni Declaration on Food Sovereignty
At the World Food Summit in 1996, La Via Campesina (LVC) launched a concept that both challenged the corporate dominated, market driven model of globalised food production and distribution, as well as offering a new paradigm to fight hunger and poverty by developing and strengthening local economies. Since then, food sovereignty has captured the imagination of people the world over – including many governments and multilateral institutions – and has become a global rallying cry for those committed to social, environmental, economic and political justice.
Food sovereignty is different from food security in both approach and politics. Food security does not distinguish where food comes from, or the conditions under which it is produced and distributed. National food security targets are often met by sourcing food produced under environmentally destructive and exploitative conditions, and supported by subsidies and policies that destroy local food producers but benefit agribusiness corporations.
Food sovereignty emphasizes ecologically appropriate production, distribution and consumption, social-economic justice and local food systems as ways to tackle hunger and poverty and guarantee sustainable food security for all peoples. It advocates trade and investment that serve the collective aspirations of society. It promotes community control of productive resources; agrarian reform and tenure security for small-scale producers; agro-ecology; biodiversity; local knowledge; the rights of peasants, women, indigenous peoples and workers; social protection and climate justice.
In 2001, delegates from peasant, fisher-folk, indigenous peoples, civil society, and academic organisations met in Havana at the World Forum on Food Sovereignty to elaborate the different elements of food sovereignty. From 2000 onwards, campaigners against the WTO’s Agreement on Agriculture demanded public support for sustainable, family based food production and called for Priority to Peoples’ Food Sovereignty and WTO out of Food and Agriculture.
The International Forum on Food Sovereignty in 2007 in Mali was a defining milestone for food sovereignty and brought together more than 500 people from 80 countries to pool ideas, strategies and actions to strengthen the global movement for food sovereignty.
The Declaration of Nyéléni encapsulates the vision of the movement and asserts: Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations. It defends the interests and inclusion of the next generation… Food sovereignty prioritises local and national economies and markets and empowers peasant and family farmer-driven agriculture, artisanal-fishing, pastoralist-led grazing, and food production, distribution and consumption based on environmental, social and economic sustainability… Food sovereignty implies new social relations free of oppression and inequality between men and women, peoples, racial groups, social classes and generations.
Food sovereignty makes sense for people in both, rural and urban areas, and poor and wealthy countries. It is as much a space of resistance to neoliberalism, free market capitalism, destructive trade and investment, as a space to build democratic food and economic systems, and just and sustainable futures. Its transformative power has been acknowledged by the Special Rapporteurs to the Right to food, Jean Ziegler and Olivier de Schutter, and in key policy documents such as the IAASTD (International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development).
The majority of the world’s food is produced by over one billion small-scale food producers, many of who, tragically, are hungry themselves. We will not find lasting solutions to catastrophic climate change, environmental deterioration and economic shocks unless we amplify their voices and capacities.
The story of food sovereignty is a story of struggle and hope. This edition of the Nyéléni newsletter is dedicated to the struggles that help us to hope for a better world. Now more than ever is the time for food sovereignty.
Focus on the Global South